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The Hive (Pantheon Graphic Novels) Hardcover – October 9, 2012
New York Times–bestselling author Box Brown untangles the complex history and role games play in art, culture, and commerce. Learn more
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“Burns’s oeuvre is frequently cited as ‘strange,’ but that’s perhaps oversimplifying a world more thought-provokingly described as recognizably like our own, except for when it’s not—and it’s the difference between the two where Burns’s power to shine a light on the darker side of human nature lies…the result will stick with readers long after being absorbed.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review
“The Hive is a tour-de-force of psychedelic storytelling, an astonishing piece of graphic literature that combines strange characters, even stranger situations and locales, and multi-leveled narratives in a way you have never seen before on the page. Burns’ work is utterly unique, and he has no fear about experimenting and trying to engage the reader in new ways. Perhaps his greatest gift is finding a way to make you find empathy for people and things that you would normally find off-putting or disgusting. Burns is one of the few talents who stands above the medium, and deservedly so. Easily one of the finest works you’ll see this year.” –Comics Waiting Room
“As if the introduction to this series wasn’t hallucinatory enough, this second installment will leave initiates feeling significantly disoriented. And perhaps that’s part of the point, as Burns blurs the distinctions within this anti-narrative among comic books, reality, drugs, masks, nightmare and identity…A very creative artist lets his imagination loose in the middle of somewhere, where only the most adventurous lovers of graphic narrative might dare to tread.” –Kirkus
“Burns’ clean, highly refined style contributes to an unnerving reading experience when reconciled with the slippery, seething and roiling quality of a story as it’s taking place—on multiple levels of consciousness, timeframes and planes of existence…Burns is making us slow down and savor this morsel of brilliance in a timeframe that starts to even out the ratio of writing time to reading time. If that’s vindication for an author—one whose visual style incorporates thousands of beautiful hash marks, each tapered perfectly with a tiny brush—then I’m all for it.” –The Comics Journal
“If you want to play against type and give a completely nonholiday gift for the holidays, wrap up a copy of Charles Burns’s The Hive. It’s a creepy tour de force, weaving together layers of paranoid nightmares, and a sequel to Burns’s X’ed Out. It’s as though the tenants of Ware’s townhouse all dropped bad acid at the same time, and Burns’s drawing delivers the horror in full-color, palm-sweating detail, complete with armies of maggots, sadistic lovers, and desolate underground factories patrolled by foul-mouthed alien overlords. Not a stocking stuffer for the little ones.” –Boston Globe gift guide
“Intelligent, carefully crafted and emphatically not for everyone.” –Paste Magazine
“The beautifully disturbing, non-linear tale leaps effortlessly between the real and unreal. Though in this installment, the lines further blur as elements from the bizarrely apocalyptic reality and the ‘normal’ collide. Inspired equally by the works of Hergé and William Burroughs, Burns once again provides one of the best graphic novels of the year.” –Nexus Graphica Top Ten
Praise for X'ed Out:
"Terrifically creepy . . . I loved every second of this book." —Boing Boing
"Burns's comics are fluid, smooth and as solidly built as a vintage TV set, but they shudder with the chill of the uncanny." —The New York Times Book Review
"A surrealistic, often horrifying book . . . a Tintin homage for grown-ups." —The Stranger
"A fantastic meta-reality where Burns' spastic yet tightly reined imagination is allowed to feed on itself deliciously." —AV Club, "A" review
"Taps into the archive of gothic and grotesque imagery . . . What's dormant inside of Tintin—the abject fear that Hergé rarely acknowledges—X'ed Out brings to life." —The Comics Journal
"Cause for celebration . . . a visual feast as much as a literary one, and it dwells in the mind long after the final pages have turned." —Culture Mob
"Tantalizing...a gorgeous head trip." —New York Magazine
"Bizarre, haunting, horrific, funny . . . Burns is skilled at paralyzing readers, and leading us into worlds we never knew existed." —USA Today
Top Customer Reviews
I don't think I should describe the "story" for you, even if I could. Some very obvious themes, carried over from X'ed Out, are: alternate/parallel worlds, relationships, (body) horror, memory, image, father and son, pregnancy, opiates, and art. This work resonates with all kinds of other comics and movies and literature and art, but this is a powerful cohesive work unto itself.
Burns has been telling non-linear narratives since before Black Hole, but this is shaping up to be by far the most advanced yet. It would take a while to map out even the explicitly distinct time/reality frames that the story takes place across so far, and to trace all the resonant images and text that link multiple strands together in various more and less mysterious ways would take much longer.
This fragmentary approach might have something to do with Burns presenting this as a serialized trilogy... also, we're constantly shown comics within comics, comics within dream sequences?, photos (not actual photos) within comics, etc... Overall, just amazing use of images that you can't get out of your head, in a way that curls back and comments on itself many times over. As with Black Hole, Burns shows himself to be a master of the comics medium, and this trilogy looks to be in every way a worthy successor to Black Hole. That said, this is "super weird" and not for everybody. Highest recommendation to those interested in a surreal body horror, non-linear narrative, thoroughly postmodern, beautifully designed, hardcover comic book.
The only complaint I can imagine is (as with the first volume) the length of this book, at 56 pages. Not an issue for me, because this is the way Burns wanted to tell his story, and it freaking works. This is a work to revisit many times.
Well, shall we? Deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole we go...
Doug is still deeply troubled that the love of his life Sarah is no longer with him, though we still don't know what happened to her. Time has moved on and his life has changed but he's been unable to move on. He talks to a new woman - a therapist, a friend? - about Sarah and his dying father, and it looks like he's become dependent upon booze and pills to cope. Elsewhere in the fantasy world, he's still the young Tintin lookalike Nitnit but he's now working in the Hive alongside the lizardmen to supply the breeders with romance comics.
Images, scenes, phrases noticeably begin repeating immediately. The Japanese romance comic that opens the book re-tells the story of how Doug met Sarah in the first book, and then later we discover Sarah loved to read old romance comics that Doug bought her at a flea market. In each version of the stories Doug is telling, romance comics play a part, and, mirroring this series and his own life, there are issues missing in between the comics Sarah is reading so she's not getting the whole story. The comics seem to be the key to Doug's story AND comics are how we'll find out Doug's full story. Layer upon layer of meta detail!
The pig foetus reappears though this time it's coming out of Sarah's stomach in a self-inflicted C-section, and the Tintin-esque eggs make another appearance. Small clues like the disembodied voice of Sarah's psychotic ex threatening to murder them both and the buzzer through which he's speaking gushing blood hints that perhaps Sarah was killed by him. Or maybe he killed Doug and all of this is purgatory where Doug's soul is trying to come to peace with his strange life before moving on - is that what this fantasy world is? Charles Burns refuses to give us solid answers and keeps us guessing.
For the most part this book is a bit more straightforward than the first though an uneasy sense of despair continues to hang over proceedings. We see the highs of Doug and Sarah's relationship and his performance art as his stage persona Nitnit is becoming well-received. Burns spends more time with Doug and his dying father, exploring his father's past and how he became such a beaten man. It's odd how we haven't seen Doug's mother yet and that Burns seems to be moulding Doug into his father's image ever so slowly.
The Hive itself has biological-looking walls, fleshy sides that produce eggs, so maybe this is Doug's subconscious hinting still further at the mystery at the centre of this all: Sarah and a baby they were going to have? There's a scene earlier when Sarah took some photos of Doug that he hated because he wasn't wearing his Nitnit mask (his protection or real self?) - will we finally understand what's happening to Doug when he discards the Nitnit persona that "he created" in order to hide from reality?
This really is a very rewarding comic to revisit now that it's complete. With the way so much of the story repeats on itself throughout The Hive, it feels like it's building up momentum and the truth is about to come out. It's an entrancing mystery told expertly by Burns and drawn in an utterly beautiful way - a masterclass in experimental fiction, challenging comics, and imaginative storytelling. Will Doug find the missing issues he needs to make sense of it all - and what part does the Sugar Skull play? Enough questions - onto the final book and (hopefully) the answers!